Why you should care

Because Chris Classick has cultivated the sounds reshaping today's music scene.

“This person/place literally saved my life,” Grammy-nominated rapper, songwriter and producer Smino tweeted in September. 

Talk about a life being saved in rap and one’s mind could easily wander to the worst-case scenario. However, the multitalented St. Louis-born musician, who’s sonically redefining rap in his own right, wasn’t referring to a tragedy.

Our hero of interest isn’t a paramedic, a third-grade teacher or a lawyer either. Rather, Smino was referring to a different type of savior: manager, engineer and founder of Classick Studios, Chris Classick — the man and place responsible for honing, shaping and cultivating some of America’s best hip-hop over the past 13 years.

“When I first met him, he came down to the studio, he played some music, and I just told him from the start he could use my studio whenever — and he literally never left,” Classick says of Smino.

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Such gestures have not only been the hallmark of Classick’s career, but he has cultivated an almost unbelievable range of talent: Vic Mensa before Kids These Days, Naledge before Kidz in the Hall, King Marie before the turntables, Chance the Rapper during the inception of Acid Rap and Coloring Book, SZA’s Ctrl, Mick Jenkins’ Wave[s], Noname’s Telefone, J. Cole’s Revenge of The Dreamers III, DaBaby’s Kirk … and that’s barely scratching the surface. Classick and his team have garnered platinum plaques and Grammys, all because a kid on the north side of Chicago saw talent that needed a home. 

“I just always saw that we had so many people that were so creative when I was young,” Classick says.

He believes in artists early.

Alexander Fruchter, cofounder of Closed Sessions studio

Born Chris Inumerable, the 32-year old Chicago native first became interested in music when he was a kid playing around with the studio in his parents’ basement. The only child to hardworking Philippine immigrant parents -— Dad was a floor manager at the post office and Mom was a nurse — he ended up spending a lot of time with his large extended family.

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As Chris got older, his fascination with music only grew. At age 12, he was introduced to the demo beat-making program FL Studio and started making beats for dancers and even for himself to rap over. He soon came across another program called Cakewalk Sonar, which taught him how to shorten up songs, and drop echoes and other cool sound effects. That’s when Chris found that his love for music went beyond merely producing but manipulating sound. (His other love is basketball, which he played in high school; he still tries to hoop every year on his birthday.)

However, at 18, Chris’ world changed forever when his mother died of breast cancer. Feeling lost with nowhere to turn, he found comfort in music. Then, when his dad gave him a $10,000 life insurance check, he decided to invest it in what came to be known as Classick Studios — the brand and nickname coming from a friend’s shirt which had the Coca-Cola logo with “Classic” spelled with a “K.”

Although just a one-room setup in his dad’s home at the start, the studio became a launching pad thanks to the equipment Classick was able to buy. It also helped to have Chicago’s endless talent at his fingertips, mingling with them at the selective magnet Lane Tech College Prep High School on Chicago’s north side. “I would always meet new artists, new producers, new engineers everywhere, left and right,” he says. 

But Classick hustled as well, passing out business cards at Young Chicago Authors events and ditching the business program at DePaul to attend Columbia College Chicago, where he earned a degree in audio arts and acoustics. Most importantly, he made himself available to however many hungry emcees as he could. “He’s allowed artists to sleep in the studio, take over the studio,” says Alexander Fruchter, cofounder of Closed Sessions studio. “He believes in artists early.”

Many of the biggest names to have come across Classick have been either friends or friends of friends. Word of mouth was that Chris had a studio and could mix your records, and Chicago’s talent took heed. “Kinda like when you first start dating somebody: You gotta talk, get to know each other, and you just don’t go right into discussing music,” Classick says. “Sometimes you do everything outside of music and really understand their mannerisms and understand what makes them who they are.”

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Classik studio in his parents’ basement.

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Classik studio in the basement of the Kilpatrick house.

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Classik studios today.

It’s a culture and a mentality that has followed Classick from the studio in his bedroom to his spacious office on Chicago Avenue. And it all can be traced back to his late mother. “My mom would always have the best hospitality for anyone who came over to the house and always made sure they were good,” Classick says. “I feel that same energy moving forward at the studio, even when it first started. That’s the reason you’ll always see a picture of my mom in the studio.”

It’s a graciousness he tries to extend to the entire city each day. Briahna Gatlin, publicist and founder of the PR agency Swank Publishing, says Classick convenes managers’ meetings and understands the value of showing up. “If I go to his event, he’ll come to mine, or vice versa,” Gatlin says.  

But for Classick, it’s not enough. He still sees opportunity in Chicago being a hub for up-and-coming artists, and feels he has a major role to play. He wants to dispel the notion that artists need to leave to make it big.

“I feel like I’m not done yet. I can’t leave Chicago until I feel like I’ve created that platform for the next person,” he says. “That void is still there.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a young Classick played around in a studio in his uncle’s basement. It was his parents’ basement.

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